Gavin grins and bows to me.
“It appears that I’ve been caught red-handed,” he says without once ounce of chagrin. “But it has been lovely escorting you. I hope you have a wonderful evening.”
And with that, he melts into the crowd and I turn to Dante in bewilderment.
“What just happened?”
He shakes his head. “Gavin happened. Don’t worry about it. He’s been this way since we were kindergarteners. He likes to compete with me. He doesn’t mean anything by it.” Dante steps closer to me and my heart automatically picks up.
“Now, where were we?”
“Well, I don’t know about you,” I answer. “But I was just escorted to a really fancy party by deceptive means. That’s where I was. Where were you?”
Dante laughs, an honest, happy sound and I find myself wishing that I could bathe in it. He’s tan and handsome and self-assured. He’s so different from the boys that I know from back home. Did I say that I hate Caberra? I meant that I love it.
I love Caberra. I’m sure of it now.
“I was looking for you,” Dante admits, ducking his head and grasping my hand. He brings it to his lips and kisses it. Holy-freaking-monkey-balls. Are all boys in Caberra this swoon-worthy or is it just Dante?
I study him as he straightens up, scanning over his broad shoulders, golden hair, sparkling deeper-than-the-ocean eyes and healthy, bronzed skin.
It’s just Dante.
Of that, I am sure.
“Well, you’ve found me,” I answer when I finally can.
He grins. “That I have. Now what should I do with you?”
Holy-loaded-question. I know exactly what I’d like for him to do with me. But obviously I can’t answer that. My mama raised me to be a lady. Or she thinks she did, anyway.
I shrug nonchalantly, as though I don’t care, as though he isn’t the first thing I thought of this morning when I woke up or the last thing I thought of before I went to sleep last night.
Dante Giliberti has certainly made himself at home in my thoughts. And I don’t think he’s going anywhere any time soon.
He holds out his arm and I slide my fingers into the crook of his elbow.
“Come with me,” he tells me. “You should meet my father.”
For some reason, I have to force my feet to move. I don’t want to meet his father because if I haven’t met him yet, then I haven’t said anything stupid yet. And that’s just fine with me. I’d rather just be a faceless house-guest in his mind.
Dante chuckles when he looks at my face.
“Don’t worry,” he tells me gently. “He’s just a normal person. He’ll love you.”
“Yeah,” I answer. “A normal person who happens to have a royal guard and his very own family crest. Normal people in Kansas have those things, too.”
Dante laughs again as he navigates our way through the crowded room. Everyone is looking at us and I focus hard on not getting my heels tangled in my dress. The last thing I need is to trip and fall in front of everyone.
On the way, Dante pauses and stops a waiter who is wearing black tails and white gloves and is walking like he has a broom taped to his spine. Dante takes two elegant flute glasses from the waiter’s tray and hands me one. I sniff at the bubbling liquid.
“For courage,” Dante says, and clinks his glass to mine.
I look around quizzically and somewhat frantically. I’m so not a rule-breaker. Are we seriously going to drink this in front of all of these adults and law-enforcement figures?
Dante laughs at my expression.
“I forgot,” he chuckles. “You’re American. You have a ridiculously repressed drinking age. Here, we can legally drink at 15 if we are in private homes or private parties. We can’t buy it until we are 18, though.”
As I think about the many drinking and driving accidents back home with teenagers who aren’t supposed to be drinking, I wonder at the wisdom of such a ridiculously young drinking age.
But then again, there’s always the theory that if society condones an activity, then it won’t be as appealing for teenagers as it is to break a law. Either way. I’m holding a glass of what is probably very expensive champagne and it is not illegal for me to drink it here. And Dante is right. I need some courage.
So I sip at the bravery-in-a-glass.
And immediately snort as the bubbles well up in my nose.
Then I cough.
And I turn red in the face as I continue to cough.
Oh. My. Word. Can I not do anything right? I need to look graceful and cool as I grasp the elegant champagne glass and drink it. Instead, I am hacking like a drunk donkey and I’ve only had one little sip.
Dante gently pats my back, trying to help.
I want to melt into the ballroom floor and die. Everyone is looking at me. Including Dimitri Giliberti.
The Prime Minister stops what he is doing and heads in our direction. He is wearing a very authentic and important looking military uniform. He has a band across his chest like the guards, but his is more of a satin sash. It’s blue and his jacket is dark red. I picture that same outfit on Napoleon Bonaparte. Only Dimitri is a lot taller. And Napoleon was French.
Dimitri Giliberti doesn’t look very much like Dante. Dante is blond, Dimitri is rather dark. But they have the same tall build with broad shoulders and slim hips. And they have the same eyes.
Dimitri draws to a stop in front of us and extends his hand.
“Good evening, young lady. I’m Dimitri Giliberti and I hear that you’ve had some travel problems. I do hope that your stay in my home has been pleasant.”
He’s so formal and adult, but his eyes are warm. I instantly like him. I can’t help it. I nod.
“Yes. Thank you so much for hosting me. I can’t believe that all of the airports are closed. What a freak thing.”
I just used the word freak in a conversation with the Prime Minister of a country. I’m the freak.
He smiles and I see that he and Dante share the same gorgeous, nerve-raveling smile, as well. That smile should be illegal.
“It is certainly a freak thing,” he answers with a smile.